Why Historical Thinking is Essential in the #AgeofTrump

Why Study History CoverThis morning two commentators were on CNN talking about how a gunman, claiming he was investigating a fake news story about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, fired shots in a Washington D.C. pizzeria.

Yes, you read that correctly, a guy acted on a fake news story and could have killed someone.  Perhaps he was mentally unstable.  Perhaps he was one of the many people who feel empowered to do this kind of thing in the #ageoftrump. Or perhaps he was completely incapable of deciphering the difference between a fake news story and a real one.  To make matters worse, CNN is reporting that the son of Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser,  apparently created this story. Flynn himself has promoted similar stories.

In the course of the on-air discussion, both CNN commentators tried to say something about the importance of truth, evidence-based arguments, critical examination of news stories and other documents, understanding the context of news stories, and considering the source of such narratives.  Needless to say, I perked up as I watched these commentators desperately search for a language to describe this problem.

Let me suggest that the language they are looking for is the language of historical thinking.  Consider the recent report published by Sam Wineburg and the Stanford History Education Group. Read the entire thing here.  It is very rich and it should be read by all teachers, especially history teachers.


I remain convinced that the study of history is the best way to teach kids and college students how to read.  If Wineburg and these CNN commentators are correct, the study of history, and the thinking and reading skills that come with it, may be our best hope. Perhaps the #ageoftrump will finally wake us up to the need for this kind of thinking.   I hope so.

3 thoughts on “Why Historical Thinking is Essential in the #AgeofTrump

  1. I agree with Professor Fea that the methodology concomitant with historical thinking is a useful antidote to “fake news” stories generated by conspiracy theories (i.e., “pizzagate”), and “confirmation bias.” The illogic of conspiracy theories is the opposite of evidence-based historical thinking. Historians assume something (i.e., a “fact”) is not true until it is proven true by verifiable evidence, while conspiracy theorists (whether they create or disseminate them) claim their alleged theories are true because they have not been proven false. This logical fallacy is known as an “argument from ignorance” or “negative proof,” which claims the truth of a premise is based on the fact that it has not been proven false. Even the Trump transition team is embarrassed by Michael G. Flynn, who has reportedly been dismissed.


  2. CNN is reporting that the son of Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser, apparently created this story.

    Actually, the report says the younger Flynn spread the story, not that he created it. Further, several news reporters–including the Washington Post reported that Gen. Flynn himself spread the story


    which he did not.

    Memes happen. The 9-11 “truther” meme persists. And whether something worse “could” have happened at Comet Pizza is a matter of speculation, since it appears the weapon was fired at an empty room, presumably to scare people out.

    The worst “fake news” of the year was probably “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” which triggered the #BlackLivesMatter movement and almost certainly led to the assassination of several police officers. It was furthered by CNN and yes, the Washington Post well before the #ageofTrump began.


    I’d put this down somewhere between the Elvis Factor, and the media and Obama DOJ’s conspicuous uncuriousity about Clinton peccadillos–not only what WikiLeaks revealed, but the Clinton Foundation still remains uninvestigated. Indeed the media had the Lewinsky story but buried it until Matt Drudge exposed it.


    The [un]trustworthiness of American journalism and the “first draft of history” is at the core of this, I think. That and the Elvis Factor. And there prob nothing to all this, but IF AUTHENTIC this stuff is downright weird. A lot more to work with than Paul is Dead.



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